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Female Founders: Rajia Abdelaziz of invisaWear On The Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Woman Founder

An Interview With Candice Georgiadis

Being a founder is definitely not for the faint of heart. It takes lots of hard work, patience, and dedication. If you’re the type of person that likes to work from 9 am — 5 pm then starting a company may not be the right fit for you. When you’re trying to start a tech company, you’re working around the clock. You also have to be comfortable taking big risks. If you’re not, then you will have a tough time running a company because it’s constantly taking risks.

As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Rajia Abdelaziz.

Rajia Abdelaziz is the founder of the viral, life-saving jewelry collection, invisaWear. Rajia graduated from The University of Massachusetts with a degree in Computer Science and Electrical Engineering. A scary incident she experienced in college, inspired her to create invisaWear for a school project. When she realized that the only products on the market were ugly panic buttons (the kind that even your grandma doesn’t want to wear) she knew she needed to develop it into a real product. Today, invisaWear is backed by America’s #1 security provider (ADT). She is proud to have developed a product that helps save lives with a click of a button.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

I graduated from the University of Massachusetts Lowell with a double major in electrical engineering and computer science. In college, my involvement as the President of The Society of Women Engineers, inspired me to get more women into tech. I found my love for the industry as an intern with Amazon in robotics. I never meant to start a business. It happened by accident after a scary situation I experienced in college while leaving an event. I thought to myself “Maybe I should ask someone to walk me to my car.” I had a lot of friends at the event but ignored my gut feeling not wanting to inconvenience anyone. I thought that I was just being paranoid with all the true crime stories I have listened to. Although I had my phone with me there wasn’t enough time during this situation to grab it, unlock it, call 911, and get help. In that moment I realized how important it is to protect yourself and your loved ones. I went online looking for a safety device but everything on the market were big ugly panic buttons that not even my 80 year old grandmother would want to wear. That’s what sparked the idea behind invisaWear. It started as a class project and took off like wildfire. I turned down job offers by some of the most well known tech companies to pursue it because I knew it would really help people.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

Honestly, I feel like invisawear’s most interesting story was the first time we saved someone’s life. It’s been 5 years since that moment and I still get choked up when I talk about it. We were able to help a young woman who was involved in a serious car accident. Most people don’t realize this but during the majority of car accidents your phone gets thrown out of reach. The particular car accident this woman was involved in was so bad that she was trapped in her car and couldn’t get out. She had nothing to rely on to call for help except her invisaWear keychain. The keychain alerted her family and the police. They were able to arrive at the scene simultaneously and it ultimately saved her life. Hearing her say the words “I just prayed to god that this button would help me” gives me goosebumps.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

One of the funniest misconceptions I had about starting a company was I assumed that when you had a product, the hard work would be over. You spend countless hours trying to raise money, develop the product, and launch it. I always thought that when we brought the product to market that this is when the hard work was over. I thought magically people would purchase the product, I didn’t realize that this is when all the hard work actually began. Marketing on a national level is very expensive. Figuring out how to scale your business is even harder, I wish someone could write a step-by-step guide on how to start a Billion dollar business!

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

It’s really hard to narrow it down to one person because we’ve been extremely fortunate to receive so much support from the City of Lowell, University of Massachusetts at Lowell, investors, family, and more.If I had to pick one person, it would be one of our lead investors, Louis. Louis previously sold his company and retired at one point but decided to return to the workforce to help people in the community. He was one of invisaWear’s first investors and has been an incredible mentor. When he chose to invest in invisaWear, he told us he was doing so because he had sisters and nieces. We really hope that one day, if we are fortunate enough to be as successful as he is, that we can choose to spend our time in the same exact way — giving back to the community.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. According to this report, only about 20 percent of funded companies have women founders. This reflects great historical progress, but it also shows that more work still has to be done to empower women to create companies. In your opinion and experience what is currently holding back women from founding companies?

I think the biggest thing holding back women from founding companies is the lack of funding resources geared toward women owned businesses, thankfully this has been changing over the last decade. However, I can’t tell you how many pitches I’ve gone into where there isn’t a single female investor on the decision making committee. I can’t tell you the amount of men who told me that women don’t worry about their safety because they themselves have never once had to worry about being sexually assaulted or attacked.

Can you help articulate a few things that can be done as individuals, as a society, or by the government, to help overcome those obstacles?

I think there needs to be more female investors. Women who’ve run successful companies should be joining Angel groups and should become venture capitalists. Funds should be required to make an equal amount of investments between female founded startups as they do in male started startups

This might be intuitive to you as a woman founder but I think it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you share a few reasons why more women should become founders?

We think differently than men and experience unique challenges that they don’t necessarily face. I never meant to start a company, I was simply looking to find a safety device that was stylish and discreet. However, I was shocked when I couldn’t find any. After raising funding, I was no longer surprised that I couldn’t find the device I was originally looking for. So many men deemed women’s safety as a non-existent issue and not enough women are starting their own companies.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a founder? Can you explain what you mean?

One of the biggest myths is that your first company is bound to fail. I can’t tell you the amount of people that told my business partner Ray and I that since we were first time founders our company was bound to fail. If we had listened to them we wouldn’t be as successful as we are today.

Is everyone cut out to be a founder? In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful founder and what type of person should perhaps seek a “regular job” as an employee? Can you explain what you mean?

Being a founder is definitely not for the faint of heart. It takes lots of hard work, patience, and dedication. If you’re the type of person that likes to work from 9 am — 5 pm then starting a company may not be the right fit for you. When you’re trying to start a tech company, you’re working around the clock. You also have to be comfortable taking big risks. If you’re not, then you will have a tough time running a company because it’s constantly taking risks.

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

1. Don’t listen to the people who tell you you’re never going to make it

  • So many people including family and friends told my business partner and I that we’d never be able to start a company because we were only 21 years old.
  • They’d say things like, 9 out of 10 businesses fail — the odds are just against you.
  • Don’t listen to these people, think about what if you’re the 1 out of 10 that doesn’t fail and focus on why you’re doing what you’re doing.

2. Your first product will never be perfect

  • So many companies and business owners waste so much time getting to market because they’re product isn’t “perfect”.
  • You need to get to market as soon as possible with a minimum viable product and as you grow you’ll be able to innovate and to make your product “perfect”.

3. Always Innovate

  • If you don’t, you’re going to become a Blockbuster.
  • You need to always be thinking about what’s next.

4. Customer Satisfaction is the Number One Thing You Should Focus On

  • 1 happy customer will tell 5 people, 1 unhappy customer will 10 people.
  • I built our company off happy customers who keep spreading the word about our mission.

5. Always surround yourself people who are smarter than you

  • So many founders let their ego get in the way, stay humble and find others to support your business / mission that are more knowledgeable than you.
  • Surround yourself with mentors who’ve learned mistakes the hard way so you can avoid making the same mistakes yourself.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

I’ve been trying to help mentor other companies and encourage other people to start their own businesses. My brother works for my company in Marketing. After seeing how well he’s helped my company scale their social media efforts, I encouraged him to start his own consulting business. Watching him land other clients and become equally as successful as I am has been so heartwarming.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

I honestly would start a movement that requires people to be more kind. Sadly there is so much hatred and anger in this world. Crimes across the country have been skyrocketing. I’d love to see someone doing something to help people come together and spread love not hate. My business partner and I are trying to start a non-profit called the Community Protection Initiative. It will allow people to attend FREE self defense classes and it will teach people bystander intervention. You won’t believe the amount of people that do nothing when they see someone else being harassed or attacked. Our goal is to change this by educating people on how to intervene in a safe manner.

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

I really admire Marissa Mayer, the CEO of Yahoo. When I was a little girl my dad told me a story about how Marissa built a nursery in her office after she had her baby. I really admired how she juggled both while working for one of the biggest names in tech and media.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

Female Founders: Rajia Abdelaziz of invisaWear On The Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.